October 27, 2008

Practice Insider: Still learning

There's part of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez that thrives on emotion.

There's little question that his exuberance and passion have helped ignite some fire on the Trojan offense.

Saturday at Arizona, though, those same qualities produced some different results.

Monday after USC's practice at Howard Jones Field, Sanchez reminded everyone an often overlooked truth.

"This is my first year starting," he said. "I'm trying to take everything in stride and learn along the way. I'm trying to play like myself and be an emotional leader."

Sanchez wasn't bad in USC's 17-10 win over Arizona. He completed 21-of-36 passing attempts for 216 yards a touchdown and interception.

But, Sanchez also missed a wide-open Patrick Turner for a touchdown on the Trojans' first offensive play and later tried to force the issue by throwing the ball downfield on third-and-one - instead of running for the easy first down.

"There were a couple of plays where I was right on. We made some big-time conversions on third down, and there were a lot of highlights," Sanchez said. "But at the same time, there were some easy passes that I missed.

"It's little mistakes like that that keep me working. You just have to strive to get better, know every situation and master it as it comes. I'll get better this week."

USC head coach Pete Carroll admits Sanchez's lack of experience leading the USC offense often gets overlooked.

"When you get off to a huge start and everything goes right for a couple of weeks, everyone starts to make these statements about forever," Carroll said. "He's still a young guy.

"That was the first time in a game where we were trying to put away a win. Even though we work on that on the practice field, the mentality it takes to carry out the play and decision-making of a well-oiled machine wasn't as good as it can be."

The two plays that seem to have stuck the most were the missed touchdown to Turner and the third-and-one throw.

Sanchez said he knew things would've changed drastically if he and Turner had connected, and after the miss, he let his disappointment show.

"I could tell in my body language on film that it wasn't me right after that play. I was still upset, and I could feel it," Sanchez said. "I remember thinking about it a little bit even after the first drive. I held on to it a little long.

"It's one of those things I can't let cloud my decision making, effect my body language or my facial expressions. I just need to be done with it."

Under a microscope form fans, coaches and the press, Sanchez said he's trying to reign in some of his instincts.

But, it's been a battle to completely shed his willingness to try and make big, albeit risky, plays.

"It's not nearly as bad as when I came in. It's already a lot better than it was last year. It's still that little bug inside of you," Sanchez said. "Coach Carroll likes part of it. He wants me to press and make some plays.

"It's knowing when to let it out. It's in there, but I'm fighting it. I'm trying to be a steady leader on this team."

Still, USC picked up a 17-10 win, and for Sanchez, that was good enough.

"It was a good game for me to learn from," he said. "Usually when you have to learn how to run the ball on third-and-one and miss two touchdowns, when you learn tough lessons like that, usually you lose.

"This is a blessing to be able to come out with a victory and those lessons."

Safety dance

After Monday's practice, both Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison said their play on Saturday wasn't anything unusual.

Ellison helped keep one of Arizona's biggest weapons, tight end Rob Gronkowski, from being a factor, and Mays flew around the field, delivering a knockout hit to Arizona's most effective runner, freshman Keola Antolin.

Mays said the hit didn't feel like anything special, and after watching film, it became less impressive.

"I didn't wrap him up," Mays said. "I kind of got in trouble for that."

Ellison, one of USC's leading tacklers, was credited with just one stop in the win - numbers Carroll said were wrong.

Still, Ellison made an impact in other ways even though the USC coaches didn't ask him to do anything all too different.

"A lot of it was just what they were doing on offense," he said. "They didn't throw to their tight end too much. It was just the way it worked out. I was down in the box like I usually am."

Extra Points

Joe McKnight played against Arizona after missing the Trojans' game at Washington State with turf toe.

McKnight practiced Monday, but he's still not pain free.

Everson Griffen had a toenail removed and didn't practice Monday. Averell Spicer and Gerald Washington both didn't practice due to ankle injuries, and Damian Williams sat out Monday with a sore shoulder. Williams is scheduled to practice Tuesday, but he will be held out of contact.

• Carroll still seemed unsure of what happened with the penalty at the end of the game Saturday and didn't know whom the sideline infraction was on. Had Arizona scored, though, and Carroll said he would've challenged that Arizona's Mike Thomas was down before fumbling/latterelling.

Marc Tyler returned to practice for the first time in three weeks Monday after suffering a pulled quadriceps muscle.

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